We recently caught up with Ryan Barnard, Game Director of Massive Entertainment’s highly anticipated game The Division and had a chat about the game, the original concept, voice actors, the in-house Snowdrop engine and the development of the game so far. Here’s how it played out.
Respawn Ninja: What was the original vision for The Division back when ideas were being tossed around? Compared to now, is the original vision still there?
That’s a great question, I think about two years ago when we really had to come up with a concept for the IP, or kind of the scenario for what’s happening with the Clancy unit – I think we’re very close to that original vision. It was a little bit more loose, we knew we needed a new Clancy unit that fit within the spectrum that Ubisoft has for their Clancy games and that it had an RPG element that was focused on online and that was new. So really, our challenge was “ok, how can the unit be different” which is why we have a response unit versus a kind of a strike unit type of Clancy unit – which I just said unit like seventy times! So that was the first difference, and then with the setting and the scenario we wanted something modern and contemporary and the idea of fragility of society of things and us being so dependent on technology as we are in the Western world. It’s a very frightening concept to have that taken away, so those two meshed and we started with that and it’s really just been a continuation.
RN: How has it been coming from an RTS background and developing what could be labelled as a hybrid tactical mixed in with elements of RTS?
Well yeah they have a solid RTS background, but we have some really experienced guys who worked on Far Cry, they worked on the multi-player [of Far Cry] and they’re working on a game that isn’t out yet. So we have a very solid amount of experience and people like myself who have an RPG, online-MMO background joined the team and kind of added that grain of experience so it’s been actually just a great mix! I mean, you see the evidence with Snowdrop, with the detail of the engine, with the animations we get, with the way the UI looks – it’s just a great studio to work at!
RN: Sound is obviously very important in a game like The Division, can you recount one crazy story that’s occurred while developing the sound elements of the game?
Let me see, there’s so many crazy stories! Besides the crazy robot sounds that we have in as a placeholder all the time that kind of creep me out where it’s like “I am agro!” but I think one of my favorite, just kind of sound or audio stories came from.. for the demos, we actually work with actors for the voices because we want it to feel realistic and be good and so we go and record that with professional actors which is weird for them because especially for the first one they didn’t know what the hell they were working on. We had this demo in a very early stage that you couldn’t even really tell what you’re recording to and uh Megan – the girl who does Megan’s voice in both demos – after we had our launch and the success there for this years E3, she was booked by a lot of different games and she was telling us the story that when we were recording that she went into one and the guy played our demo for them and said “I want you to be like this girl” and she was like “uh, well actually that’s me!” and the guy was like freaking out and yeah, they nailed their casting! So I like that audio story, but you know the attention to audio detail is done by Simon, our audio lead and it’s amazing and yeah, I don’t have any funny stories besides that one except for the fact that audio is super important for us.
RN: How challenging was it to originally get the games groundwork up and running. The game is full of ambition!
Well, I mean in developing games there’s you know, such a wide variety of challenges all the time. There’s no like, you know, we get that question of “well, is this more challenging than this” I mean it’s all challenging. But I would say that the saving grace of why we’re able to work at the pace we do and keep the fidelity that we do besides the awesome Swedes that we work with that are great engineers is Snowdrop. I can’t emphasize enough how awesome it is having your own in-house engine where you say “ok, well the game needs this functionality” and in a week or three or four days it’s in the game and working. I’ve never experienced anything like it before in a different studio or a game and it’s an amazing luxury.
RN: Tom Clancy games always have a certain tone and feel to them, how important was it to capture that in The Division and in ways push it to the next level?
The Clancy core pillars is something that we really tried to respect and make sure that they’re there, so things like pushing the tech to a prototype kind-of next level, to having the game be about the unit and having tactics and skill be important, to having it be in our case a militarized unit that has been pinned back in society, you know all of that we wanted to make sure is in the DNA and then beyond that – it’s about the new elements we’re adding in to the genre, so all the persistent stuff that works like the RPG stuff that hasn’t been in previous Clancy titles is what we’re weaving in there.
RN: Massive seem to be talking a lot about the Snowdrop engine, can you elaborate on the process of working with the engine and how it impacts The Division?
Working with the Snowdrop engine is unbelievable, I mean I touched on this a little bit but really it’s just freeing for us. So any of the different kind of disciplines in the game whether it’s tech art, art, animation and design (and so on) are able to make requests, especially from the creative director or myself and we can filter that down and see very quick results from those desires and that’s the best thing about Snowdrop. It’s very developer-friendly and it’s very, very fast in iterations.
RN: If you were to pitch The Division using only two words, what would they be?
Let me think for a second! I would say suspense and I would say player-retention even though that’s kind of three! But again that’s so hard because like we were saying the games like – this genre, that genre and so on!
The Division is slated for release in 2015.